The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I've Just Been Busy
Birthdays, short stories, leaf sweeping, work, history, wondering if JPMorgan's purchase of Bear Stearns signals the collapse of the economy.

This is Amie and me at the New York Deli's photo booth during the wonderful observation of the annual anniversary of her birth this past week. I love photo booths. They are so retro, and you always look famous. In addition, I'm reminded both of Amélie and Paris, both of which Amie and I enjoyed in the recent past.

The weather here has been sunny, bright, breezy and a bit rainy in the evenings. I got some leaf sweeping accomplished during the weekend, from out of the stairwells to the basement. And the upright waste pan I use that saves untold suffering of my back fell apart during the process. My screws came loose.

The Late Henry Moss closed at the Firehouse Theatre Project and so goes an era at the company. This was Justin Dray's final performance on the Firehouse stage for the foreseeable future as he leaves this week for L.A. and director and actor Bill Patton returned to his new conjugal home in Maine. We were so happy to see our most civilized friends, the Cusacks, down from their home of about two years, near Boston.

I completed a short story and submitted it for a compilation volume; a day late, and not short, and perhaps not much of a story. We'll see. I wish I'd demonstrated some patience and gotten Amie to read the piece before I slung it through the cyber-aether.

At any rate, billion-eyed audience I'm a bit concerned--as many of you are, too , I wager-- about the financial future of the nation as today--Sunday--JP Morgan purchased the failing mortgage house Bear Stearns. I've navigated around various blogs from the sober probity of The Economist to the sassy libertarian (and pro-bankruptcy advocate, among many other things) Just A Girl In Shorts Shorts Talking About Whatever and I look forward to what Kunstler will make of the mess.

To quote Twofish:

"So what is happening is that the Federal Reserve is basically taking the role that would be played by bankruptcy court, it gave Bear-Stearns an emergency blood transfusion that could get it to the emergency room. This is quite unique and it is something that was done in the case of Long Term Capital Management. It’s really breaking new ground here, and what happens will be studied as a guide for what happens the next time this happens (which I hope will be a long, long time from now, but who knows).

One group that comes out of this looking really bad is CITIC Securities. JP Morgan ended up paying $200 million for all of Bear Stearns and total control, whereas CITIC was about to pay billions for ten (?) percent with no management control. It’s fortunate that the Chinese securities regulators failed to approve the deal otherwise, CITIC would have ended up burning $5 billion.

I think the one common thing that Spitzer, Tibet, and Bear-Stearns have in common is that it shows how quickly things can fall apart."

I watched Wolf Blitzer with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and all I could think of was this Saturday Night Live character from years ago; he was the Corporate Spokesman, who smoked, and sweated and got visibly more nervous as he was asked questions by a Weekend Update reporter, and his catch phrase was, "Did I say that? I don't recall saying that."

"Remain not only calm, but convivial."

As Tom Hanks admonished patrons at the Byrd Theatre last week during a power interruption, so seems the grey Establishment faces and Voices of Reason pertaining to the financial crisis. As of Monday prior to lunch, the joggled U.S. markets were actually rebounding, but concerns that this is but the beginning of something worse has curtailed outright optimism. Lehman Brothers could be on the ropes.

Steve Duncan, a poster commenting on Kunstler's blog, makes the laconic observation that,
"Market trading in positive numbers. Bear meltdown but a blip. I think if NASA scientists announced concrete proof the Earth was getting sucked into the Sun on April 1st there would be a 500 point rise in the Dow. There is seemingly no such thing as bad news. And what we think is bad news produces positive trading action. Go figger........"

And this pragmatic assessment from Tanqurena reacting to one of Kunstler's observations:

">In addition to the financing the Federal Reserve ordinarily provides through its Discount Window, the Fed will provide special financing in connection with this transaction. The Fed has agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns’ less liquid assets.

So. In this week's Rodney Dangerfield moment, the Fed had to tie a $30 Billion pork chop around Bear Stearns' neck to get JPM to play with them.

And to think that JPM only paid $236Million for that $30Billion pork chop (it is a non-recourse loan, which means the Fed can't go after JPM if they default on it). Ain't corporate welfare wonderful?"

By the way, Kunstlers's posting this a.m. "A Real Freak Out," is well-worth reading and until the comments deteriorate into flame throwing--why, boys and girls, why?--they, too, can provide insights.

I quote from Kunstler:

"Things are getting very weird very fast -- and will probably get even weirder, faster, as the train wreck of bad debt meets the Saint Paddy's Day Parade of bacchanalian excess at the grade-crossing of destiny. The train is carrying America's financial system, but the engine driving it is peak oil, because declining energy resources necessarily means declining capital wealth -- and declining value of all the institutions, instruments, and markers that denote that wealth or hope to profit by trading in it. The fiasco leads straight to the necessary reinvention of American life on other terms and by other means....

I'm sure our political leaders will mount a campaign to rescue the futureless infrastructure of suburbia. It will necessarily be an exercise in futility. But it has already started. That's what the swindle of ethanol has been all about. And the touting of hybrid cars, and the flimflam of "energy independence." Even the "environmental" crowd" squanders most of its attention these days on how to keep all the cars running on something other than gasoline. They don't question the assumption that we will remain a car-dependent society.

As much as I loathe the suburbs in their grotesque late-stage efflorescence, I can understand why those stuck in them would wish to defend their misinvestments. I just hate to think of the political consequences when their disappointment catches up to the reality that the suburbs will not be rescued. And by that I mean not just the houses but the way-of-life associated with them and all its accessories, furnishings, and activities. Bewilderment will soon turn to rage out in the highway-strip-and-cul-de-sac empire."

l love that phrase "grotesque late-stage efflorescence." Kunstler is all about the peak oil business and if you read him every week, his message of The End Is Near gets threadbare as the End's goalpoasts, that seem to be getting closer, are instead moved down the field a few more yards. Being a Jeremiah has its risks because you end up sounding like a crank, but doom and gloom provides odd comfort to those who see nothing but a collapsing civilization all around--much like that crane in New York, or tornadoes in Atlanta (see below).

Kunstler reminds me of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), whose philosophy hinged on how life is in the crapper and you just have to realize this without expecting events to get any better. He was a best seller, in his day. (And, by the way, I'm not saying either Schopenhauer or Kunstler are wrong.)

Schopenhauer, not content to the detail the depressing nature of things, gave his readers the following advice for-- not quite happiness, but emotional maintenance.

• Live in the present, making it as painless as possible.
• Make good use of the only thing we can control, our own minds.
• Our personality is central to our level of happiness.
• Set limits everywhere: limits on anger, desires, wealth and power. Limitations lead to something like happiness.
•Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if we're responsible.
•Seek out solitude, other people rob us of our identities.
•Keep busy.

He sounds almost Zen here: desire is the root of all unhappiness, or even Existential: recognize life is meaningless and have a good time, whatever that means to you.

I don't know enough about Schopenhauer's views on whether art or creativity mattered in all this (I think the importance is paramount), and he seems to prefigured Sartre in Nausea: hell is other people. Which, by the way, I believe only a few days out of the year.

And by the way, Kunstler's next book is coming out. World Made By Hand: A Novel of the Post-Oil Future. Listening to the "trailer" (Books with trailers!) I am reminded of The Postman, that called up a post-oil world, too, and focused on bands of survivors and zealots. The subject seems less far fetched today than when David Brin's novel was published in 1982. That was a time of nuclear immolation fears, Reagan and the "Evil Empire." Those were far off, innocent days.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road of 2006 is even more grim; and is set in the immediate post-collapse of Everything, what Kunstler is also discussing.

From CNBC:

"There's turmoil in all markets after Bear Stearns, and equities is not the place to be," BNP Paribas strategist Edmund Shing told Reuters. "Everyone's asking: Who's next? Is there a Bear Stearns in Europe, could investment banks start to fail?"

The shock news, the biggest sign yet of how devastating the credit crisis is for Wall Street, slammed the U.S. dollar to a record low against the euro and boosted gold and low-risk bonds.

"The fear is how many more skeletons in the closet are still there in the global credit markets?" said David Cohen, economist at Action Economics in Singapore. "This is another effort by the Fed to calm things down, but the cloud on the horizon is just how much more of these credit issues are still out there."

Tornado Hits CNN -- World Stops Spinning

CNN all the sudden became the Weather Channel on Saturday as its varied correspondents went scrambling through a few blocks of blasted wreckage following the work of a tornado roaring through during the night.

[The image is via
Sansego's blog that has some other arresting images and good commentary. ]

We first heard the news on Colonial Avenue when Amie's dad, watching the SEC Tournament in progress on live television, observed how the Alabama v. Missississippi State matchup was interrupted when part of the Georgia Dome was ripped away.

At least three are known to have died--a low number considering the thousands who were concentrated in midtown Atlanta that night. Stilll, behind every statistic is a tragedy, and no less so than in Atlanta. Bonnie Turner, a protector of animals, was taken by this force of nature. Many of the animals she'd rescued were loosed into the storm.

According to CNN's Wynn Westmoreland, Mrs. Tyler left this quote on her Web site, "Beauty such as this is a gift, and I'm often in awe of this world we've been given."

In other news, as they say, a gigantic construction crane operating in east Manhattan collapsed, causing wreckage that looked like that wreaked by a tornado, and killing even more than than what natural forces took out of Atlanta-- maybe four died as the device smashed to the ground. The construction of a 43-story building had been cited for 13 safety violations, five of which were pending resolution. In Bloomberg's New York, if it isn't getting turned into a Starbuck's, then it's a high-priced condo. Hizzoner never met a developer he didn't like.

The Duty Patriot

So we watched the first two episodes of John Adams tonight. The program does convey the anarchic quality of revolutions--what with goaded massacres and crowds gone crazy. That any kind of Declaration of Independence came out of such a cauldron of emotions is amazing.

McCullough was right to point out in his remarks that the 18th century was not a simpler time. From disease to the whimsical rules of a tyrant, life's qualities were far more challenging. Still, one does wonder: thinking of Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin...where is such brilliance in the public sphere today?

The lonesome whistle of a train in the distance, and the lateness of the hour, and work in the morning, hastens me to bed.

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At 10:20 PM, Blogger guileless said...

found your blog on the nav toolbar on blogger. i must say, i do like your writing style! and those photobooth photos are lovely. all the best for the short story!

At 6:47 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Thanks for peeking in at this little smidgin of the Interwebs! As I data mined my Sitemeter I was coming across a Singapore address and that made me curious as to who on that side of the earth was following events here in Richmond, Va.

Welcome to the Blue Raccoon!


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